Teachers in Cloquet Public Schools received a little help to deal with the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic at the Monday, Oct. 12, regular school board meeting. Parents will also have a new way to keep track of COVID-19 numbers in the district.

The Cloquet School Board approved a leave of absence agreement between the district and the teacher's union. The agreement allows a teacher to take an unpaid leave of absence for the 2020-21 school year if they have an elevated risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The teacher will still have the right to return to active employment after the year and won't lose seniority status. The district has already made similar agreements with other collective bargaining units, according to Superintendent Michael Cary. The agreement passed unanimously.

The board also unanimously approved the creation of a teacher sick bank for the school year. This will allow teachers to voluntarily put in any unused sick days into the bank for other teachers to draw on if needed. A teacher cannot draw on the bank unless they have a COVID-19-related absence and were already down to 12 or fewer days of absence left.

"The teachers just wanted to find a way to be supportive of one another," Cary said. "We didn't have any real concerns of this adding any financial liability to the district. It’s just them finding a way to nicely share their sick leave with each other."

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Any unused sick leave remaining in the bank at the end of the year would be distributed proportionally back to the teachers who donated to the bank.

"For example, if Duane donates 20 days and I donate 10 and we're the only two that donate, he'd get two thirds of the days and I'd get one third of the days left," Cary said. "If there are nine days, he'd get six days back and I'd get three. And the bank is then dissolved."

The district agreed to help track the days in the bank and aid with distribution.

A new way to see COVID-19 cases

The last bit of COVID-19 related news didn't require board approval, but Cary informed the board about the new COVID-19 dashboard on the district's website.

"Whenever we've had a case of COVID in one of the buildings, we've identified close contacts, decided who needs to be quarantined, etc. And then we've always sent out this form letter to families who weren't at risk, informing them of the case," Cary said. "But it's the same thing over and over again. It creates this extra work that has to be done by a number of people."

Rather than continue to send out the same standard emails, sometimes multiple to the same family, district officials will now update a dashboard on the main website that tracks the number of cases in each building daily, noting new cases.

"We'll let families know that the dashboard is available and update the numbers there for their reference," Cary said. "That way we can stop sending out these respective emails."

The dashboard is already live at isd94.org.